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Pro Wrestling

Owens vs. Zayn: conspiracy belief infects WrestleMania

Or maybe everyone really is out to get Sami?

Sami Zayn’s been going through a rough patch. His career hasn’t been unfolding exactly how he wanted it to, and being isolated during the pandemic surely isn’t helping him feel any better.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

A lot of us can relate. And when everything seems to be lining up against you, it’s awfully tempting to think there’s someone behind it all. So Sami Zayn figured that some unknown actor had plotted his downfall, and the rest of us pegged it on Satanic, pedohiliac Hollywood elites.

Of course, QAnon isn’t the only conspiracy belief infecting the world, but it does seem to be a uniquely American one that took off over the past year. Conspiracy theory researcher Mick West says that’s not surprising. People were left alone without a lot of direction, often while under financial and professional hardships, so they naturally turned to a supportive community on the internet. And the groundwork had already been laid by Sandy Hook truthers and other “false flag” conspiracy theorists to identify the culprit behind everything harming us.

You see the same rhetoric in Zayn’s promos. “They” are controlling things. Random isn’t random; someone is always manipulating events behind the scenes. It’s almost more comforting that way. Combating an enemy is a lot easier than facing the fact that sometimes bad things happen to good people, for no reason.

And yes, social media outlets like YouTube (home of Zayn’s new best friend Logan Paul), have enabled the spread of conspiracy theories. While changes have been made recently, social media algorithms tend to promote content to people based simply on popularity, without discriminating if people actually believe the material or are seeing it as entertainment. YouTube and Facebook have since banned QAnon completely from their platforms.

Sadly, it’s not just the conspiracy theorists themselves who are victims (and I’m not talking only about the people hurt and killed in the January 6 U.S. Capitol Building riots). Many families say watching a loved one spiral into the depths of conspiracy belief is like losing them entirely. Kevin Owens feels that pain, too. His friendship with Zayn has always been on-and-off, but you can tell it’s harder on Owens this time.

But it’s pretty clear that calling him crazy isn’t going to help matters. West says in his book Escaping the Rabbit Hole that it is possible pull someone back from the abyss, but it’s a long process that requires empathy. Try to find some common ground on something you both believe, and plant some seeds of doubt. Most of all, don’t cut the conspiracy believer out of your life — without your guiding force, things could get even worse.

It’s gotta be a better strategy than apron headdrops and repeated Stone Cold stunners.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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